- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—PALMETTO — Ten months after Manatee County officials pressed the city of Palmetto for a change in its comprehensive plan and future land use map to build a hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, there has been little progress.

In a whirlwind three-week turnaround, the county had approached city officials on Sept. 9 and got the changes through the planning and zoning board Sept. 18, a city workshop Sept. 22 and the city commission at a special meeting Sept. 29. The proposed amendments were then transmitted to various state agencies for approval, and the county received the green light in December to release an intent to negotiate letter to prospective hotel developers.

But that’s where it stopped, even though Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Elliott Falcione and Manatee County Planning and Section Manager Lisa Barrett both expressed excitement late last year, indicating the proposal would move forward quickly.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she doesn’t understand the lack of communication.

Bryant began inquiring in April as to the progress of the hotel to Manatee County Board of Commissioners Chair Betsy Benac.

“Palmetto moved quickly on the amendments and has shown good faith supporting the initiative by having the Community Redevelopment Agency pay the associated planning fees,” said Bryant. “I was led to believe that the ITN (invitation to negotiate) would be going out in early 2015, but we have yet to receive any update about it since Dec. 11.”

Bryant said the delay has meant the probable loss of hundreds of thousands of Enterprise Zone Program incentive dollars. The Florida Enterprise Zone Program offers an assortment of tax incentives to businesses that create employment within an enterprise zone, but the program will likely be allowed to expire at the end of 2015. Only current applications will be considered for the remainder of the year.

Benac responded to Bryant’s letter in May, saying the person who needed to draft the invitation to negotiate was busy with other projects.

“Because of the complex nature of developments that may be proposed that could include not only a hotel, but also other facilities and properties and result in a potentially complicated financial structure, we felt it was important to engage the county’s financial advisor to provide assistance in developing and evaluating the ITN,” Benac wrote. “Our financial advisor has been very engaged in the issuance of a large bond issue for the county’s utility system and we therefore have not been able to address the ITN as quickly as we hoped.”

Falcione said Monday that the county instead hired an independent consultant with experience “in this kind of real estate transaction and the need for expertise and guidance in negotiating with a potential hotelier. … We’re nearing the last stage of development for the ITN.”

The amendments approved late last year change 13.6 acres of the 21.6 acres of land surrounding the convention center from public facilities to planned community. Without the change, a hotel cannot be built.

“In the past, I’ve received two scathing letters from past county commissions asking why we didn’t have a hotel there,” said Bryant. “It makes sense to do it this way with the county working in collaboration with the city of Palmetto so we can jointly apply for economic development grants. I’ve had a lot of people come and ask if the county has lost interest, so I think it’s fair to say the city is a little frustrated in how this is dragging on, but we look forward to seeing the first draft of the ITN so the city can provide feedback and input.”

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.


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